Words by Mitch Turnbull
Images by Mitch Turnbull & Red Dirt Diary
As a community, us 4WD owners are often labelled as track-destroying, padlock-sawing, environmentally-damaging ne’er-do-wells, often by those who have never used a vehicle off-road. While there is a small minority who do, in fact, wear those labels, there are those among us who take it upon themselves to change this perception by their actions. They do this through the preservation and protection of historic huts and areas that would otherwise be forgotten by man and time.
By proactively volunteering to work with government agencies such as Parks Victoria and the Department of Primary Industries (NSW), these clubs and individuals are becoming an integral part of the management programs of areas such as the Victorian High Country. There are over 200 huts in varying states of disrepair due to age, weather and vandals. It’s the invaluable groups like the Victorian High Country Huts Association who liaise with relevant agencies to free up sparse government resources and in doing so, make us as a community look a whole lot more appealing to the decision makers back in the big smoke.
One commendable example of this actions-speak-louder-than-words philosophy is the Aberfeldy Tracks Project (ATP), led by Rudi Paoletti. This group of volunteers was once in part financially-assisted by the government, but now entirely runs on volunteer-provided time and money. Even with no government aid, the ATP has raised over $50,000 for new signs, track maintenance (both 4WD and bushwalking) and educational material such as maps and guide books. Not only do they run their own working bees, the ATP also advises nine different 4WD clubs across Victoria regarding each clubs’ management areas and huts.
The delinquents who take it upon themselves to carve or paint their names onto hut walls, create their own tracks and leave piles of rubbish at campsites are damaging important parts of Australia’s history. They are also causing arguably irreversible damage to the hard work of volunteers, both physically and to the working relationship forged between outdoor enthusiasts and the government agencies that oversee the recreational areas we all enjoy. Every single one of us, as a national community, has the shared responsibility to preserve the past to save our future.